There are layers to award-winning, soul singer/songwriter Teri Tobin. Each layer reveals a lusher depth, a more meaningful experience, an expressive passion and an abiding generosity, in Tobin’s music and womanhood. All of who Tobin is and what she’s lived through comes through her testimonial verses and agile instrument. Four projects deep, Tobin’s artistry has blossomed on her latest offering, Truth Is… (Top Notch/Ingrooves/Universal).
In its unvarnished truth and efforts to touch the experiences of her listeners, it may be the most mature work to-date by a talent who brought you the critically acclaimed Love Infinity (Sōl 2 Kēp Entertainment) and So Good To Me (Sōl 2 Kēp Entertainment) in just the last four years. As with her previous soulful offerings, the prospect of love happening just around the corner and healing messages of self-love and acceptance thread this empowering and elevating work of intimate honesty.
Born in Mesa, Arizona and raised in Southern California, Tobin has been cooing in key since coming out of the womb. As with many of the soul greats she admires, from Donny Hathaway to Marvin Gaye, Tobin’s training and early performances began standing flatfoot in front of the pews and belting past the church steeple. A comfortable alto with lilting soprano notes, the young Tobin experienced her first studio session as a child with R&B legend Jeffery Osborne. A teenage Tobin was later recruited in high school to be a part of an R&B and hip-hop soul act, Simpli R.A.W., who despite getting signed, fell prey to unscrupulous industry practices. Undaunted, after graduating from high school and a brief ATL move, Tobin had been promised a solo deal that never materialized, before finally landing at Howard University during a particularly charmed period in Washington, DC. Training in classical voice at the famed historically black college, Tobin was present for a storied time that boasted such artists as Shai, Sy Smith, and Eric Roberson as program peers and performing partners. A member of HU’s famed Chorale, Tobin shared stages with Patti Labelle and Luther Vandross, and was part of history when the Chorale performed with icons like Diana Ross at President Clinton’s Inaugural Gala on the National Mall. Further getting her feet wet by gigging at landmark spots like Takoma Station and Old Glory, Tobin was the first artist to perform at Georgia Brown’s, which has since become a DC music staple. Moves to Atlanta and back to Cali followed, resulting in session and background work with Joe, Mica Paris, Chico Debarge, and Chante Moore. Young and gifted, Tobin was a working artist making an industry name while actively writing the early songs with Debbie Nelson, cuts that would eventually find a home on Tobin’s debut, Love Infinity, but not for another decade. Life had more writing material for Tobin.
Despite cutting a demo and making some headway, Tobin met with many confidence-shaking roadblocks. A voluptuous, milk chocolate woman whose sultry eyes projects the sweet beauty next door, Tobin was inexplicably made to feel not light enough, pretty enough, good enough just as she was by a brutal business known for its tunnel vision. The unrelenting narrow-mindedness drove Tobin to leave music for a time, during which she fell in love, had her son, and returned home to attend to her mother and younger brother—in short, living her life. But, soon after the end of a troubled relationship that lacked its own melody and harmony, Tobin was back to song, writing with Lew Laing (The Elament Music Group), and had settled on becoming a songwriter. Together, they unsuccessfully pitched songs to various artists before determining that these songs were meant for Tobin. In 2011, under the prescient management and stewardship of Darla Tobin-Blakes, that epiphany finally bore the independently released Love Infinity and its radio single, “Free,” a tribute to Donny Hathaway and #1 smash in the UK and the Netherlands for several weeks. More than a decade of songwriting in the making and longer still in developing her craft, Love Infinity and “Free” were both overnight sensations in the UK and among global soul connoisseurs. Love Infinity was quickly followed up with 2011’s Christmas Child EP (Sōl 2 Kēp Entertainment). Letting no grass grow, Tobin dropped her 2012 fan tribute, So Good To Me (Sōl 2 Kēp Entertainment). True to Tobin’s testimonial approach to penning her life and belief in love, early projects deliver healthy doses of positivity and thoughtful meditations on love, survival, and gratitude. Each are also deeply rooted in the simple storytelling traditions of ‘70s soul, the sensual spirituality of ‘90s neo-soul, and warm contemporary jazz ambience that have become hallmarks of the jazzy soul songstress Tobin has become in the hands of producers as varied as Ahmed Sirour and Tall Black Guy.
That signature sound of hybrid musical influences from soulful rock to jazzy R&B has proven as commercial as it is inspirational. Tobin’s writing prowess led to placement in the 2008 independent film, Fathers of the Sport. Her voice and music can be heard with such corporate partners as Direct TV and Inflight with American Airlines. She has also shared stages with such peers as Anthony David and Rhonda Thomas, nationally toured her “Love & Soul LIVE” concert series, and is a staple performer for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and NBA’s Phoenix Suns, respectively. Tobin’s work has earned her two Independent Music Awards and a SoulTracks Reader’s Choice Awards nomination.
- L. Michael Gipson